Disabled children and school exclusion: Your Top 5 questions answered

8 mins read

Thursday 26 January 2023

Tags: exclusions, facebook q&a, School exclusion, exclusion, suspension

Last week, our SEN team hosted a special Q&A session in our Facebook Group so that parent carers in England could ask questions and get expert advice on school exclusion.

Parent carers, many with children who had been recently excluded from school, asked a range of questions about their child’s rights to education support and how to challenge decisions. Others were concerned that their child’s EHC plan wasn’t being followed, leading to behaviour issues and regular suspensions.

We were pleased to be able to offer much-needed advice to the parents who attended, but we know that exclusion is still a top concern for many of our families. So to help those who couldn’t join the Q&A, we’ve rounded up 5 top questions asked during the session below.

You can also read through the whole Q&A in our Facebook Group, or visit our school exclusions webpage for more advice and information on your rights, government regulations, and the procedure for when a child is excluded.

1. My son was repeatedly excluded due to behaviour issues related to his communication needs. The council claims he was just on a reduced timetable, but we never agreed to one. Without getting the support in his EHC plan, I’m worried this will continue to happen. What can I do?

From what you say, it sounds to me that the school has been unofficially excluding your son by asking you to keep him at home. This is unlawful. The government’s statutory exclusion guidance states on page 15 that: “An informal or unofficial exclusion, such as sending a pupil home ‘to cool off’, is unlawful when it does not follow the formal school exclusion process and regardless of whether it occurs with the agreement of parents.”

Children should also not be put on indefinite part-time timetables, though they can be allowed as a temporary measure – for example if a child needs gradual reintegration after illness. The government’s attendance guidance states on page 18 that: “All pupils of compulsory school age are entitled to a full-time education. In very exceptional circumstances, where it is in a pupil’s best interests, there may be a need for a temporary part-time timetable to meet their individual needs […] A part-time timetable should not be used to manage a pupil’s behaviour. […] A part-time timetable must only be in place for the shortest time necessary and not be treated as a long-term solution.”

As your son has not been formally excluded, you can’t use the statutory procedures for challenging an exclusion. However, you can make a formal complaint to the school as they have not followed the guidance on unofficial exclusion or part-time timetables.

You can also make a complaint to the local authority that your son is not getting the provision on his EHC plan. The LA has a legal duty under section 42 of the Children and Families Act 2014 to secure special education provision, and to ensure that the provision in section F of the EHC plan is made. This did not happen. You could also argue that the LA gave the school advice that is in contradiction to the statutory guidance on part-time timetables.

If you complain to the LA but feel you are getting nowhere with their complaints procedure, you can take things further to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman.

2. My son tried self-regulating in a quiet space but school staff moved him elsewhere using Team Teach. This causes him to feel threatened and react aggressively, so he has been excluded 3 times. They are threatening to exclude him again if he is violent. Are they allowed to do this?

The school should be willing to make adjustments to ensure that the likelihood of your son being excluded again is reduced. So, if being touched is a trigger for him and may cause him to react, the staff should stop touching him and find a different approach.

You would expect this to have been discussed at a reintegration meeting. These meetings should be held on the day when a child returns to school after being excluded to discuss what went wrong and what support or adjustments may need to be put in place.

During the first 5 days of an exclusion, the school should take reasonable steps to set and mark work for your child. For longer exclusions, the school must arrange suitable full-time alternative education to begin from the 6th day of the exclusion. However, it is good practice for a school to provide work for exclusions that last 1-5 days too.

Also, if your son has an EHC plan, an exclusion – or the threat of one – should trigger an emergency review of the plan. The local authority must make sure that any alternative provision is able to meet your child’s special educational needs as set out in the EHC plan.

You could consider applying to other places if your son’s school is unable to meet his needs. However, a school can refuse to accept a child if they have been permanently excluded twice already within the last two years, and in some circumstances they can refuse pupils with challenging behaviour. Our website has more information on behaviour-based exclusion and the school’s statutory responsibilities.

3. My 17-year-old was suspended for assaulting his teacher. The school and local authority have called an emergency review of his EHC plan while they seek alternative provision for him. How much of a say do I have in all this?

In theory, if your son is suspended for a fixed term, he should be allowed to return to school when that period has expired. However, I imagine that if you insisted on this, the school would permanently exclude him as it is a serious breach of the behaviour policy and having him in school is likely to affect the welfare and safety of others.

The school is doing exactly the right thing in calling an emergency review rather than going straight for permanent exclusion. I suggest you should argue that the current school is not suitable for your son and cannot meet his needs. The EHC plan should be brought up to date and a new draft prepared. You can then ask for a different school or college. Our website has information about how the process of naming a school works. We also have information on annual reviews of EHC plans which you may find helpful.

Bear in mind that this may take a bit of time. If you can get everyone to agree that the current school is unsuitable and it is not in your son’s interests to return, then the local authority becomes responsible for arranging alternative provision (AP) until a new school or college can be named. The AP must be suitable for your son’s special educational needs. It is not unreasonable for you to be allowed to express a preference. If the local authority does suggest something that is unsuitable and you do not send your son, you cannot be fined as he is over compulsory school age.

4. My child was sent to a pupil referral unit with a view to return to school after one term, but he’s now been there for a year. His needs have increased and I don’t think he will be able to cope in a mainstream school anymore. What can I do?

Schools can direct pupils to off-site education for the purpose of improving a child’s behaviour, but you are correct in saying that this should be temporary. The placement should also be reviewed regularly. It may be helpful to read the section about off-site direction on page 20 of the government’s statutory exclusion guidance.

As you now have a draft EHC plan, you can express a preference either for the primary school where he is on roll, or for another school – mainstream or special. This would be the best way to get him out of the PRU and into a school that can meet his needs. It would probably be helpful for you to read our online information on draft EHC plans.

You can also take a look at our webpage on school placements for more information about your rights when asking for a school to be named on an EHC plan.

5. My son was permanently excluded in November, but a panel overturned this decision. He’s currently in a pupil referral unit and awaiting an EHC assessment, but the local authority is pressuring us to remove him from the roll. What are my options?

I am so sorry to hear your son was permanently excluded, but I’m glad the unfairness was recognised.

The school should not be pressuring you to remove your son from the roll. The governing body must consider both the interests and circumstances of your son, other pupils, and staff when considering reinstating a child. A reinstatement meeting should happen as soon as possible to discuss whether your son could return to school and what the school may need in order to better meet his needs (for example, top-up funding).

If the school would struggle to meet his needs full-time, it may be possible for him to attend both the school and the PRU with an individualised timetable. This can be an option until the EHC process is complete and a suitable setting that he can attend full-time is identified.